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26 May 2019

Universal Children’s Day celebrated on trash piles

Universal Children Day is observed to encourage understanding among children and to institute actions for their welfare.It takes place on November 20, the day on which Declaration of the Rights of the Child was ratified. For the specific purpose of child advocacy, the theme for Universal Children’s Day for year 2013 was: Stop Violence against Children. 

Pakistan is among the first 20 countries to ratify the Convention on the rights of the child. Government and non-governmental organizations, civil society, electronic, print and social media relayed the message — for the children to understand each others, for activists to take action for the welfare of the children.

The message in the books justifiably remains strong but the impact in the streets of Pakistan looks conspicuous by its absence. On the occasion of Universal Children's Day this scribe approached some kids in the streets of Pakistan's most organized and developed city, Islamabad. The intent was to know whether the kids in the streets know about the day or not.  

We met Arshad 15, who was roaming around a fancy hotel down the street. Inside, a conference was in-progress where ladies and gentlemen were pressing on Children Rights in the society. Arshad, perhaps, was yielding the impact at first-hand. He was outside with his cobbler's toolbox, ready to fix the gentlemen's shoe problems—dusting, polishing and repairing. 

"Do you know about the Universal Children's Day that we are celebrating today?” I asked. 

He nodded his head in negation but seeing the opportunity of human interaction, he pitched in his sale verbiage: "May I shine your shoes, brother?" The kid is all focused on his job, in a market where vulnerabilities outnumber opportunities. With the physical and mental capabilities, he is too young to face the bitter reality.

Oblivious to the conditions Arshad lives in, we asked whether he has plans to go to school. “The question is a fallacy. I am poor and that should presumably be your answer” He replied.

Arshad lives in a country where 6 million children have been affected by floods.  12 million children are underage workers. More than 423,000 children die before their 5th birthday. Children here are prone to dangers such as arm conflicts, underage marriages, child molestation, child abduction, murders, injuries, sodomy, suicides bombings and human trafficking.

We walked few blocks away to see the grandeur of the Universal Children’s Day. At Munshees, we saw a security guard, in culturally tailored red and khaki uniform, beating up a child, hardly of 12, with his truncheon. The kid was allegedly involved in sucking up empty beverage bottles, picking up empty cans, and cardboards from outside of the premises. It was an unlucky day for the kid that got caught and was beaten to tears.

Other than the in-door conferences and media news, is there any mechanism to enforce the principle, “The child shall be protected against all forms of neglect, cruelty and exploitation. He shall not be the subject of traffic, in any form”?

We also met Qayyum 15, washing dishes at a café in Karachi Company. He left his school after grade 5th.  He is working here for the last two years but intends to go back to school to become a doctor. Only God knows the circumstances under which his ambition will survive.

We witnessed several scavengers’ kids observing their day on piles of garbage, picking recyclable items so that they can make some money to buy food. This is perhaps their only employment opportunity, given their age and strengths.

Governments make high claims of eradicating poverty and social injustices. The need of the time is to take some practical steps towards the UN Millennium Development Goals, especially those related to children.

Naveed Hussain and Shoaib Kahut have contributed to this story from Islamabad,Pakistan
Photo Credits: 
Naveed Hussain